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Opioid Withdrawal: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Detox + Medication= the best treatment for withdrawal symptoms

Opioids are highly addictive, and opioid abuse in the United States has become a national crisis. Statistics underline the gravity of the problem, with the National Institute on Drug Consume claiming that more than two million Americans abuse opioids and that, on average, more than 90 Americans die daily from opioid overdoses.

Opioid-dependent individuals may experience unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms when they stop using them. If you are battling opioid abuse or addiction, you may want to learn more about opioid withdrawal and how to reduce and manage withdrawal symptoms.

What is Opioid Withdrawal?

Medically supervised opioid withdrawal, commonly referred to as detoxification, includes prescribing medications to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms that arise when an opioid-dependent patient stops taking opioids. Among the withdrawal symptoms of opioids include drug craving, anxiety, restlessness, gastrointestinal discomfort, diaphoresis, and tachycardia. 

Opioid agonists such as methadone and buprenorphine are used to treat withdrawal symptoms, and alpha-2 adrenergic agonists such as lofexidine and clonidine are as well.

It is unlikely that supervised withdrawal would result in prolonged abstinence from opioids, and it does not address the reasons the patient became dependent on opioids or the damage the addiction has caused to the patient’s relationships, work, finances, mental, physical, and spiritual health. Without a successful transition to follow-up treatment, most commonly medications for opioid use disorder supervised withdrawal alone is associated with many negative outcomes, including increased rates of death, incarceration, and infectious disease transmission.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal can occur in anyone physically reliant on the drug, particularly if they abruptly cut their dosage or stop taking the substance entirely. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal can range from mild to severe and include:

  • Racing heart
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Increased body temperature
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Chills

Babies born to mothers addicted to or who took opioids during pregnancy often exhibit withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Poor feeding
  • Seizures
  • Dehydration
  • Digestive issues

Can Opioid Withdrawal Cause Death?

While opioid withdrawal symptoms might be extremely painful, they are typically not life-threatening. In some instances, problems caused by previous medical disorders or by injectable drug usage might be life-threatening. 

After abstinence, persons who resume opioid usage have an increased risk of overdose. If diarrhea and vomiting are left untreated, people detoxifying at home or without medical supervision may face dehydration and heart failure.

What Causes Opioid Withdrawal?

Long-term use of opioids causes the body to become tolerant of their effects. Your body needs an increasing amount of the drug to get the same effect over time. This dependency is hazardous and raises the possibility of accidental opioid overdose.

Long-time use of these drugs alters the function of nerve receptors in the brain, making them dependent on the drug to function. If you get physically sick after discontinuing an opioid drug, this may indicate physical dependence on the substance. 

Symptoms of withdrawal are the body’s physical reaction to the absence of the drug. Many individuals depend on these drugs to avoid pain or withdrawal symptoms. In some instances, people are unaware of their opioid dependence. They may confuse withdrawal symptoms for flu or another disease.

Opioid Withdrawal Diagnosis

Your doctor may diagnose withdrawal based on your symptoms and the results of a physical examination. They may also do a urine test to see which substances you’ve used.

The American Psychiatric Association specifies four withdrawal criteria:

  • After using opioids heavily for many weeks or more, you’ve stopped using them or reduced your dosage, or you’ve been given an opioid antagonist, such as naloxone, which counteracts the effects of opioids.
  • You experience at least three withdrawal symptoms within minutes or days of discontinuing, tapering or getting the antagonist.
  • These symptoms pose significant difficulties in your daily life.
  • The symptoms are not caused by any other mental illness or medical disease.

The Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scale (COWS) might help your doctor determine the severity of your condition. It involves eleven common symptoms. Each is assigned a score and added up for a total of up to 47.

Treatment Of Opioid Withdrawal

People who are detoxing from opiates can benefit from physical and psychological help. Treatments can help alleviate symptoms and avoid a relapse into opiate use.


During the time when the drug is leaving the body, the individual will experience detox. In some cases, this occurs under constant medical supervision. In this case, the duration of symptoms is generally between 5 and 7 days.

A supervising doctor will closely examine how the patient’s body adjusts to discontinuing opioid medication by observing the respiration, body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Most people need to undergo treatment after detox. This treatment can include:

  • Self-help groups, like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment


In some instances, a doctor may prescribe methadone. Methadone is an opioid with a longer duration of action than other opioids. Methadone can diminish the severity of withdrawal symptoms significantly.

A week later, a doctor will progressively cut the patient’s methadone dosage. People can continue to take methadone indefinitely or taper off gradually.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which functions similarly to other opiates but does not entirely activate the opioid receptors. This mode of action can prevent relapse and lessen the likelihood of cravings, preventing a person from returning to the drug they were dependent on.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently stated that buprenorphine administered by a doctor by inserting under a person’s tongue might cause tooth decay. This can even affect those who have never had dental problems.

What Are the Complications of Opioid Withdrawal?

During the withdrawal phase, nausea and vomiting might be prominent symptoms. Inadvertent breathing of vomited material into the lungs (also known as aspiration) can be a dangerous withdrawal complication since it can lead to the development of pneumonia (aspiration pneumonia).

Another painful and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptom is diarrhea. Loss of electrolytes and fluids due to diarrhea can induce an irregular heartbeat, resulting in circulation difficulties or even a heart attack.

To prevent these complications, it is necessary to replenish fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhea. Even if you do not vomit, nausea can be quite painful. Additionally, muscle spasms and joint discomfort can occur with opiate withdrawal. Your doctor can provide you with medications to alleviate these unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Additionally, it is essential to note that certain individuals may suffer withdrawal symptoms not indicated here. Consequently, it is necessary to collaborate with your doctor during the withdrawal phase.

symptoms of babies born to addicted mothers

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the common opioid withdrawal symptoms?

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
Nausea and vomiting
Muscle and bone pain
High temperature and/or chills
Heart palpitations
Irritability and agitation

Which drug has the most withdrawal symptoms?

Opiates, heroin, and methamphetamine are some of the most powerfully addictive substances that result in withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal. During withdrawal, extreme delusion and hallucinations may force a person to harm oneself or others.

How long do painful opiate withdrawal symptoms last?

Typically, withdrawal symptoms last three to seven days. However, the precise duration depends on the drug abused and the intensity of the abuse. In rare instances, it may take days, weeks, or months to eliminate a drug from the body entirely.

The Haven Detox Makes Detox Process Easy and Comfortable

Opioid withdrawal often lasts a few days, but for some, it might last many weeks. Your opioid withdrawal timeline will vary depending on several factors, including the type of opioids you have been using, whether or not you have used other drugs in addition to opioids, and the length of time you have been using opioids.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are frequent, extremely unpleasant, and difficult to treat outside a treatment facility like The Haven. A medical detox program at The Haven Detox can help you withdraw from opioids more securely and painlessly.

Call us at (561) 328-8627 today for more details!

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